Recommendation: 1 X 256MB Crucial PC2100 (CAS2.5)
Price: $40 shipped

This week, we recommend Crucial memory modules primarily because Crucial continues to offer excellent customer support, warranties, and just plain reliable memory modules. This particular memory module is rated at CAS 2.5 and is on par with other PC2100 modules from the likes of Kingston, Mushkin, etc. 256MB of memory should be more than enough for most entry level applications unless you decide to start gaming or using other applications that require significant main memory capacity, in which case, we'd recommend 512MB of memory instead. We'd also recommend upgrading other parts of your system if that's the case (like video, for one), but we'll get to that in a moment. Anyway, make sure you buy your memory from a reputable online vendor, and if you're not sure what to do, just visit and buy directly from them. Crucial's web site is very specific about which memory modules you need. If it's confusing, just make sure to look for the modules that we've recommended here today and make sure they are unbuffered, non-ECC memory modules.

Alternative: 1 X 256MB Mushkin Blue Line PC2700 (CAS2)
Price: $50 shipped

Mushkin's Blue Line offers a PC2700 module that runs at a low Cas Latency of 2.0 instead of CAS 2.5, like with Crucial's PC2100 module above. In addition, this is a PC2700 module, which of course means it's capable of 333MHz DDR frequencies. This memory is ideal for the 2500+ that we recommended today as an alternative CPU, as it perfectly matches that processor's FSB speed, offering the best possible performance. Still, it's $10 more for only a little bit more performance, mostly unnoticeable. In addition, for a few dollars more, you can purchase PC3200 memory running at CAS2 (like OCZ's Performance series of modules), so it depends on exactly how much performance you need.


Recommendation: 64MB Sapphire Radeon 9200SE
Price: $41 shipped

This week, our recommendation is the Radeon 9200SE instead of the regular 9200. This is mostly due to the fact that we changed our format for secondary picks ("alternatives" instead of "runner-up" hardware), but nonetheless, it is still fitting of an entry level system. While the 64-bit memory interface of the 9200SE (SE indicates the halved memory interface) cripples gaming performance considerably compared to 128-bit video cards, it's still an acceptable card for the light to occasional gamer, and of course, more than necessary for non-gamers. 2D IQ quality will live up to business users' needs as well as the regular Joe Shmoe's needs; that is, crisp text and excellent clarity in general. At $41, it's hard to find a better video card with said feature set.

Alternative: 64MB Sapphire Radeon 9200
Price: $57 shipped

The Radeon 9200 is the AGP8X version of the Radeon 9000. This is the non-crippled 128 bit memory interface version of the 9200SE. Vendors may or may not make this information about memory interface differences clear when advertising their 9200 video cards, so be sure to check. Gaming performance is considerably better with the regular 9200 than the 9200SE, and 2D IQ is identical, if not better in some cases depending on whether or not you choose to pick a higher quality version of ATI's 9200 (from Gigabyte, for example). You should definitely be considering this card for your entry level system instead of the 9200SE if you're at all interested in some semi-serious gaming. As far as the onboard video memory size is concerned, 64MB should be more than enough for the majority of video games out there, and certainly enough for budget users. There are 128MB versions of this card available, but it's completely unnecessary to upgrade to them when looking at the price differential.

Listed below is part of our RealTime pricing engine, which lists the lowest prices available on memory and video from many different reputable vendors:

If you cannot find the lowest prices on the products that we've recommended on this page, it's because we don't list some of them in our RealTime pricing engine. Until we do, we suggest that you do an independent search online at the various vendors' web sites. Just pick and choose where you want to buy your products by looking for a vendor located under the "Vendor" heading.

CPU and Motherboard Alternatives Monitor, Computer Case, and Power Supply
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  • NeoGodless - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    I've built a lot of Athlon machines, and so has my co-worker for here at work. I haven't heard of one person complaining about instability or processor failure in all of the time that I have been familiar with computer hardware that couldn't be blamed on software. It's almost amusing to see the reliability argument pulled in when people are trying to decide between AMD and Intel. Anyway, I wanted to say that I personally had two very bad experiences with 9200SE video cards. Perhaps it was just the brand (PowerColor) but the 2D IQ was horrible. Text was barely readable and icons on the desktop had blurred shadows (shadows that didn't belong there). I tried in a few systems, and on a few monitors, and always the same. A regular 9200 (tried both Sapphire and Transcend) did not share those IQ problems. So I always recommend spending the extra $3 for a 9200 and not getting the SE.
  • zortwood - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    Also, that Cooler Master is rated only up to 900MHz Athlons, based on some sites that sell it.
  • zortwood - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    "We suggest the Cooler Master DP5-5G11A, ... If you're looking for something more quiet, we suggest mounting a Panaflo L1A fan to reduce noise. "

    That sounds like a 120mm fan to go on a heatsink that takes 50mm fans? I'm I missing something?

    I'm looking for a inexpensive but quiet way to cool my Athlon 1.4G. My existing fan is too noisy.

  • T8000 - Monday, March 22, 2004 - link

    By realistic I mean testing configurations that are likely to be made with high visual settings, so like I mentioned earlier, testing budget CPU's like Athlon XP and Celeron with $400 GPU's does not make sense, just like adding $300 worth of fast RAM to them.

    For C & C generals, I would not recommend playing it with a budget system, but if you must, you should use equal visual settings when you compare performance. And in my experience, user guessed CPU limits usually vanish with a faster GPU.

    Also, I have seen too many Athlon systems that did not even manage to keep working for three years of normal use, so I say that it is better to play at 60 FPS with Celeron and be able to save your progress, then to have frequent AMD related crashes at a whopping 62 FPS.
  • newuser12 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    sry, for double post, but I had to mention this: I have never had any problems with any processors, so I cannot really vouch for either intel or AMD here. However, We have at least ....4 computers with Athlon XP processors in our house and I know of some other people elseware, and NONE have had problems with them.

    what did you mean by the comment: "
    But generally speaking, a Celeron with dual channel memory will perform close to Athlons rating system when used with realistic benchmarks and settings." Realistic?!? what do you mean?

    Like I mentioned earlier, please read the budget CPU shootout article. AMD will always have an advantage over Intel in these low end CPU's.
  • newuser12 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    "And most benchmarks favor one CPU or the other, making it possible to have a Celeron outperform an Athlon 64 clock for clock, but also to create the results you mentioned, depending on the benchmarks used."

    True, but out of a unch of benchmarks, celerons only did barely OK in media encoding and they got killed in everything else. This is not just a case of benchmarks that favor AMD, this is just a fact: celerons suck. I remeber this comment: "All celerons have to offer is a high clock speed".

    The fact that they are generally more expensive than AMD processors(that are much faster in performance) while this is a budget system is another interesting point.

    You are right that this would not be a real gaming system, but that using Evan's entry level system, you could make a system that could run many games well enough. Just for kicks, lets talk about C and C generals with celerons vs Athlon XP's.

    The celeron I had (2.2) would barely even run C and C. The 1800+ with the same vid card ran it much, much faster. I know I wasn;t GPU limited, so that is not a factor here. The celeron simply could not handle the amount of data it had to process fast enough.
  • T8000 - Sunday, March 21, 2004 - link

    It is not the performance that makes Celerons stand out, but their reliablity when paired with Intel mainboards does.

    And most benchmarks favor one CPU or the other, making it possible to have a Celeron outperform an Athlon 64 clock for clock, but also to create the results you mentioned, depending on the benchmarks used.

    Just when you benchmark a $400 GPU with a $75 CPU for games and select settings like 640x480 with no AA and AF, big differences will arise. But those differences are meaningless because nobody would use that CPU with that GPU and nobody with a $400 GPU would ever play with these low settings.

    But generally speaking, a Celeron with dual channel memory will perform close to Athlons rating system when used with realistic benchmarks and settings.

    Not to mention that none of these budget systems will offer serious game performance, but are more likely to be used for home office, Internet and small server appliances, where reliability is much more important then performance.
  • newuser12 - Saturday, March 20, 2004 - link

    25, Apparently you never read the CPU budget shootout where only a celeron 2.6 could barely manage to outperform an athlon 1800+ in media encoding and the celerons got raped in everything else. Celerons suck, period. Although they are Intel's budget CPU's they are still priced higher than AMD's processors which can kick their asses badly, ESP. when it comes to games. I once figured that I would try a celeron.........a 2.2 celeron with a geforce4 (with 64 ddr) AGP was outperformed badly by an Athlon XP 1800+ with a geforce4 (once again 64 ddr memory) PCI card. Badly.
  • T8000 - Friday, March 19, 2004 - link

    For a budget system, I would go for reliability, as most people want a system that actually keeps on going.

    So I would suggest:

    CPU & Cooling Intel Celeron 2400 - $71
    Mainboard Intel D865GBF - $96
    Memory 2 x 128 MB Kingston PC2100 - $52
    Video Card Onboard - $0
    Monitor Samsung SyncMaster 763MB $146
    Computer Case Antec SLK1600 - $46
    Sound Card Onboard sound $0
    Speakers Creative Labs SBS270 2.0 $20
    Networking Onboard 10/100 Ethernet $0
    Hard Drive - Seagate 7200rpm 40gig- $59
    CD-RW Samsung CDR-W/DVD Combo Drive,- $47
    Bottom Line - $537

    I think the extra $33 are very well spend, as this memory comes with lifetime warranty and it is much faster because of the dual channel setup. And this mainboard offers a very nice upgrade path, supporting the fastest CPU's available.

    Not to mention this setup allows you to tell your friends your real CPU speed without being laughed at.
  • Evan Lieb - Friday, March 19, 2004 - link

    Yeah Trogdor and mostlyprudent, definitely a lot you can do with such a small budget these days, and with great upgradeability.


    Yeah, if you compare the two on the same monitor you will probably find the nForce IGP to be inferior. Even though text isn't "blurry" (depending on what your standard is, I suppose), sharpness can varry quite a bit.

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